Farming rhinos – the future?

Here’s a link to a Daily Mail article about our recent visit to photograph at two controversial rhino farms in South Africa. The farmer, wealthy businessman John Hume, has nearly 800 rhinos across these two ranches. He breeds the animals on the farms and dehorns them every 18 months or so, stockpiling the harvested horn, which would be worth millions on the black market, in bank vaults off-site.

It’s not surprising to learn that he’s in favour of legalising the trade in rhino horn. His argument is that selling farmed rhino horn legally will protect wild rhinos from being killed by poachers for the illegal horn trade. (The current tally of rhinos lost to poaching this year in South Africa is 339). He claims money’s not the issue for him, that he’s wealthy enough already…

Whatever your views on John Hume, and the whole of this complex and emotive topic, we wanted to see for ourselves, and get pictures, from inside an intensive rhino farm. Could these paddocks of docile, dehorned white rhinos taking food supplements from concrete food hoppers and grazing placidly on bales of lucerne, offer a peek into a future world of rhino agriculture?

In terms of welfare issues John Hume’s rhinos have much more space to roam in than captive rhinos in zoos. You might argue that if you’re okay about keeping rhinos captive in a zoo then there’s no problem with this sort of animal husbandry, however at odds with our notion of wildlife it may seem.

Of course darting a rhino every 18 months to harvest its horn is an invasive procedure that’s stressful and potentially dangerous for the animal: rhinos can die under anaesthetic. John Hume agrees, but says he’s not yet had any deaths as a result of dehorning. Then there’s the issue of just how we feel about seeing a rhino without its horn, seemingly behaving as a rhino with a horn would do…

It’s a critical time. Talk of a legal trade in rhino horn is gaining momentum in South Africa. This is why we wanted to raise awareness and encourage debate about these key issues crucial to the future conservation of Africa’s rhinos.

Here in the UK, rhino-horn farming isn’t the sort of thing to hit the headlines. The poaching story ends up being reduced to statistics and sound-bites without the multi-layered issues behind the headlines being fully debated. Hopefully we can do our bit to help through our photo-journalism features.

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2 Comments on “Farming rhinos – the future?”

  1. Tony & Carol Dilger September 5, 2012 at 10:09 am #

    Perhaps a legal trade in rhino horn could undermine the illegal one….we all know how prohibition didn’t work. Any solution to this problem is always going to be the lesser of several unpalatable evils, but the clock is ticking and the current rate of attrition by poaching is beyond belief. Debate on this subject is therefore of the utmost priority and Steve and Anne Toon are right to investigate this seemingly desperate measure. If we don’t start on a compromise right now, we’ll be leaving the procrastinating to our kids. Or, maybe not…


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